Many NFL draftniks regard Alabama Najee Harris and Clemson’s Travis Etienne as the top two running backs in the 2021 draft class. Pro Football Focus doesn’t, however. Its final running back ranking update that made the rounds on Monday has North Carolina’s Javonte Williams ranked at the top.
Williams who is a bit on the smaller side, did show in college that he has a knack to break away from defenders after first contact. According to PFF stats, the Steelers finished 31st in explosive run play percentage in the regular season. Williams’ 4.59 yards after contact in 2020 is over a yard better than the Steelers’ overall yards per carry mark last season.
In 2020, Williams rushed for 1,140 yards on 157 carries (7.3 average) and 19 touchdowns at North Carolina. He also chipped in 25 receptions for 305 yards (12.2 average) and three touchdowns.
In case you did not know already, Williams, who turned 21 in April, declared for the 2021 NFL Draft back in late December. For his college career, he rushed for 2,297 yards and 29 touchdowns, in addition to catching 50 passes for another 539 yards and four touchdowns. Of his runs, 25 resulted in gains of 20 yards or longer, and 84 of them resulted in gains of 10 yards or longer.
“This kid kind of gives you a little bit of everything,” NFL draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said of Williams prior to the annual college Pro Day circuit getting underway. “He’s 220 pounds but he has big-time burst and he’s got really good vision, and to me while you’re starting to see him pop up more, he’s my 32nd player as I mentioned, he’s going to continue to go up because everything I keep digging on and finding out from the school and finding out from guys that have been around him and coached him and played with him is the kid’s wiring is off the charts. In a year where we don’t maybe have as much information, when you get a kid who’s got great tape, who’s got high, weight, speed and now the character and the work ethic is off the charts, you bet on those kids.’
PFF also has the Steelers selecting Williams at 24th overall in one of their latest mock drafts. That would be a bit of an upset if that were to happen, however, as neither Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert nor head coach Mike Tomlin wound up attending the North Carolina Pro Day. Steelers running backs coach Eddie Faulkner was present for that event, however.
The major media draftnik consensus seems to be that Williams will be drafted somewhere in the second round.